Here’s a challenge I promise won’t hurt. Try this, grown-ups — whether or not you have children in your lives. Take the latest album, Through the Woods, by children’s music singer-songwriters and adventure-seeking, Grammy-winning duo Okee Dokee Brothers (Justin Lansing on guitar and vocals, andJoe Mainlander on banjo and vocals), clear your mind from all pre-conceptions about music for children. Forget the music you’ve heard that made you want to jump out of your minivan. Put on some headphones or get into your favorite listening place, relax, and start up the album. I defy any bluegrass, folk music, pure acoustic-jamming adult to see this as a “children’s album.” In fact, I’d imagine, you may be like me and want to listen again and again with no kid in sight.
Nominated for a second Grammy this year for Best Children’s Album, Through the Woods is a collection of songs written during the duo’s own unique experience in the Appalachian wilderness. It harkens back to the music of the hills and valleys that was championed by artists like Jean Ritchie. The echo of our early European and African ancestors is present with the appealing contemporary feel of Old Crow Medicine Show and early Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Children have been enjoying this album since its 2014 release. You will too. It’s not only for the kids. It’s for weary moms and stressed-out dads, silly uncles, eccentric aunts, weird cousins, and all your wild friends who think themselves to be hipsters, but who also love great music. Beware though, because this Grammy-nominated album may make you want to get healthy and seek the serenity of the wilderness, the satisfaction of pure, authentic music. In fact, in a recent interview, guitarist Joe Mailander said, “Really, we prefer ‘family music’to the ‘children’s music’ label. Our music is for all ages. We just leave out the, you know, songs strictly for adults. We have ’em in our back pocket, though.”
So, maybe The Okee Dokee Brothers do have an album for the mainstream Americana audience to enjoy somewhere down the road. But, really, when the songs, music, and the fulfillment of their own artistic vision is this good, there is no need. If you have children, I recommend this album to begin a journey toward great acoustic music, a shared wilderness experience and some fine bonding time. If you’re not a parent, I recommend the same for you and your friends, whatever their age.
The second part of an interactive Wilderness Series, Through The Woods, like it’s Grammy-winning predecessor, Can You Canoe?, was conceived first in a direct experience with the wilderness — this time the Appalachian Trail. For those who wish to go a bit more in-depth, there is an accompanying video chronicling the 30-day hike, with lessons on the natural environment, and encounters with the people of the region. This includes old-time Appalachian musicians who play banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and stand-up bass, as well as harmony singers and storytellers.
One such video highlight is a session with mountain musician David Holt, who plays and sings Doc Watson’s “Georgia Buck” on the mountain banjo and demonstrates how to play a paper bag, with a mighty fine blues harmonica. Along the way, the Okee Dokee Brothers write songs about each step of their journey. The video also documents how to go through the process of writing a song — bad ones, throw-away ones, as well as the good ones that made the album. The results — recorded in Dean Jones’ creative workshop recording studio in Woodstock, New York — cap the experience.
Of course, just putting on the album and enjoying it may be enough for you.
I was there, at the origin of Can You Canoe?, through the 30-day journey down the Mississippi River to the recording, completion and Grammy win for the album. The project provided me the honor of not only working with Joe and Justin, but to interview Garth Hudson, who participated in the album.
This time out, The Okee Dokee Brothers won a second well-deserved Grammy. According to Joe, there was a sense of comradery among the nominees in the children’s music category, as opposed to the competitive drive that exists most other Grammy categories. The Okee Dokee Brothers love the win, since it will help to get the word out and support the next chapter in their “Wilderness Series,” which will take them to the Rocky Mountains. And when the music is this good, ultimately, the family audience — all ages and fans of real music — come out the real winners.
The Okee Dokee Brothers will be performing at the Muscians Institute Concert Hall in Hollywood for the Grammy Children’s Nominee’s Concert on 2/7/14 at 10:30 AM. For their full concert schedule visit their website.